It is essential to know how long can a drone fly before it has to land. Drones are becoming more and more popular. Due to modern drones’ assistance systems, even beginners can now create incredible photos and videos. It does not matter if the drones take pictures of birthday parties, weddings, or family celebrations in your own garden.
Even a trip to the lake with friends, a climbing excursion on the mountain, a hike, or a downhill ski or downhill mountain bike ride can be filmed with ease. Through the tracking systems of modern drones, the camera follows you automatically.
Drones are used for a variety of challenges, and their range of tasks is continuously expanding. Depending on the field of application and type of use, drones’ prices and functionalities also vary considerably. UAVs for private users are usually less expensive.
They offer a shorter flight time than professional drones, which are used, for example, in film studios. Usually, the manufacturer’s specifications for flight duration of private drones in the middle and upper ranges are 12-25 minutes, small drones like micro drones flying significantly shorter and usually only a few minutes. However, the manufacturer’s specifications are generally determined under optimal conditions, extremely rare in actual operation. The drone’s exact flight time depends on several factors, which can considerably shorten the flight time.
The general size of the drone
In general, it can be assumed that a larger drone remains in the air longer than a smaller drone can. This is mainly related to the battery’s size since it can store more energy in larger models. Thus, the drone can stay in the air long before it has to land.
Small drones do not offer the possibility to use a larger battery with a longer runtime due to space constraints. Also, larger batteries are more massive, so larger motors and rotor blades must lift the increased load into the air. There is also no space for the larger rotors in small drones.
The payload of the drone
Most drones in the private sector are purchased “off the shelf” as standardized models. No changes can be made to them, so the payload is not a standard. Only the protection of the drone by “spacers” or “propeller protectors” can be removed. However, this step is not advisable for a beginner since experience in the drone’s control, and maneuverability should first be gained. If the pilot is familiar with the drone, he can remove the protective components and extend the drone’s flight time.
On the other hand, most professional drones can be adapted to the tasks at hand and equipped with various accessories. For taking a thermal image over a house or forest area, a different camera, including equipment, is required to take a wedding photo.
Therefore, most professional drones offer higher flexibility, usually reflected in a higher payload (adjustable adapters, adaptable connection system, etc.). However, this flexibility also provides advantages. If not all the payload for camera and measurement systems is needed, an additional battery can be accommodated. This increases the service life of the drone despite the increased payload.
The battery and its influencing variables: How Long Can A Drone Fly
The battery has a considerable influence on the flight duration of the drone. On the one hand, it represents a weight which has to be moved. Therefore, a larger battery requires more energy for the flight. At the same time, it offers a larger amount of energy, which increases flight time. The limiting factor here is the power of the motors and the selection of the rotor blades. If the take-off weight is too high due to an oversized battery, this will not help.
An often underestimated factor only becomes apparent over time. Like any battery, the drone’s battery is also subject to an aging process. Many people know this from their smartphones.
In the beginning, the smartphone easily lasts the whole day. In the evening, it still has enough energy for a game on the sofa or for listening to music while cooking. Over time, the phone’s lifespan battery decreases dramatically until it needs to be recharged as early as noon to avoid suddenly switching off in the evening. The same is true for the drone battery. It loses a small part of its capacity with every charge cycle, and the flight time decreases. With time passing, the drone’s entertaining decreases, and the battery needs to be replaced.
The battery should also not be completely discharged, as this may damage it, significantly shortening its life.
Another relevant factor is the temperature of the battery. This is also related to the outside temperature and influences the flight time of the drone. If the battery becomes too hot or too cold, its capacity is reduced, and the drone’s flight time is shortened.
To avoid this, the batteries should be stored indoors in a cool place. The best temperature for this is between 10 – 25 °C. It is recommended to keep the battery at this temperature before the flight and protect possibly existing replacement batteries from direct sunlight.
The wind and the weather
As soon as the drone flies outside, it is exposed to the weather and wind. These variables have a significant influence on flight time since strong wind leads to increased energy consumption. If the drone has to fight against the wind to continue its flight, it consumes more energy and cannot stay in the air as long. The same effect occurs when the drone has to stay in one place in strong winds.
To produce unshaky images and videos, the drone must be absolutely still in the air. This is very difficult in the strong wind because the drone has to lean “into the wind” to fight against it. This leads to the motors’ higher energy consumption because they have to maintain the drone’s inclination and not drift off. Depending on the drone and its motorization, this can lead to the drone being unable to withstand strong winds and be “blown away.”
Weather conditions also have an influence on the flight and possibly even the service life of the drone. In bad weather with rain and gusts, a drone’s operation is associated with risks, as water can damage the electronics. Most pilots are aware of this, which is why many do not take off in the rain. However, few know that moist air can also clog the drone. High humidity may infiltrate the drone, and water droplets can also damage the electronics.
Speed of the drone
The speed with which the drone moves has a significant influence on the flight duration. If the drone flies very fast, it needs more energy to cover the same distance than if it covers it at medium speed. This is due to the fact that the motors have to accelerate the drone to very high speed and reach the limits of its capabilities. In this range, the energy consumption of the motors is maximum, which drains the battery very quickly. It is therefore not advisable to let the drone fly at very high speed for a long period of time.
Possibilities to extend the flight time
In order to extend the flight time of a drone, an additional battery can be installed by saving on the loading of additional equipment. This extends the flight time considerably and enables, in particular, a longer flight time without a stopover.
This is particularly relevant in professional use; for example, when inspections are carried out and interruptions in-flight time to change the battery cause considerable additional costs due to longer operating time and renewed approach and search times to identify the last inspected point.
Most privately used drones do not offer this possibility, so another alternative can be used, which minimizes the limitations of the battery capacity. In order to be able to fly longer, it makes sense to get a second and third battery for each drone. With this, the drone can be immediately restarted after a short stopover with the new battery, and one can spend twice or even three times the time in the air. Since the charging times of the batteries are usually very long, usually, 1.5 – 2.5 hours, a second or third battery is a significant improvement and allows you to enjoy the drone in the air for a longer time.
An important safety note
Nobody likes to read through safety instructions, but they should be seen. If the drone is approaching the end of its flight time, it must be retrieved as quickly as possible and landed safely. As a pilot, you must therefore keep a constant eye on the battery and make sure that you turn around in time and avoid dangerous areas.
Dangerous areas can be lakes, rivers, highways, but also forests. If the drone crashes over one of these areas, this usually leads to the complete loss of the drone. Finding it in a lake or river is almost impossible, and even if it is recovered, the water may have damaged the electronics considerably. Also, a crash or emergency landing over a forest or a busy road often leads to the loss of the drone. Although it is then easier to find, it is usually severely damaged or even completely destroyed. In addition, an emergency landing on the road can lead to accidents with considerable personal injury and material damage.
Also, for another reason, care should be taken to ensure that the drone does not land too late. A very late landing leads to a severely or even completely discharged battery. This can cause permanent damage to the battery and considerably shorten its life. As a result, the flight duration is shortened more and more until the defective battery has to be replaced. This can be avoided by a foresighted flying style, and thus the flight time can be extended.